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An embryologist works on embryo at the Create Health fertility clinic

Sang Tan/Associated Press

Ontario's Liberal government is announcing Thursday its long-awaited plans for expanded coverage of in vitro fertilization.

The move puts an end to an 18-month wait for those who are struggling with infertility and who have been counting on the Liberals to make good on their election pledge to fund one cycle of IVF. It follows a report from an expert panel that was received by the government earlier this year.

While the Liberals have promised to have the funding in place by the end of this year, large questions have remained about how that money will be made available and whether the government will place age or other limits on the program. The announcement by Health Minister Eric Hoskins at a Toronto indoor playground is expected to put an end to months of limbo by answering those questions.

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Fertility experts and advocates in Ontario and beyond will be watching closely since the course that Ontario chooses could serve as a model for others. Quebec is the only jurisdiction in Canada that covers IVF treatments under the provincial health plan and it is preparing to dramatically scale back its generous program because of rising costs.

The cost for one round of IVF treatment ranges between $8,000 and $15,000 – a high price for a province that is facing an $8.5-billion deficit, has frozen hospital budgets and is imposing fee cuts on doctors. Until now, only a small group of women who have blocked fallopian tubes have had the treatment covered in Ontario. All others have had to pay for it at private clinics.

Even with Thursday's announcement, would-be parents are likely to have to wait some more. There are already waiting lists at fertility centres in anticipation of the change, with one Toronto clinic estimating it could take a year or more to address pent-up demand.

Doctors in Quebec say they experienced a similar surge in demand for about 18 months after funding was introduced in that province.

The case for funding in Quebec included the expectation that it would reduce costly, and risky, multiple births. Given the high cost of the treatment, often more than one embryo is implanted to increase the odds of success. Quebec rules require only one embryo be used. The rate of multiple births fell, but not enough to compensate for the cost of IVF treatments.

Quebec, which extended coverage to all women, has proposed legislation that would replace up-front coverage with tax credits based on income. The new bill would exclude women older than 42 from coverage, though the province has backed down from plans to prevent older women from funding IVF out of their own pocket.

Manitoba offers a tax credit for IVF treatments and New Brunswick offers a one-time grant.

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